Jennifer Blanke, PhD 2005
Vice-President Agriculture, Human and Social Development, African Development Bank Group
Former President of the Alumni Association Committee
Going to the Graduate Institute was so different than my first journey through graduate school. The first time, at Columbia University, I was 23 years old – one of the youngest (and most timid) in my class. When I started my PhD in economics at the Institute nearly a decade later, I was in my early 30s and had already worked for several years – on political campaigns, in management consulting, and at the World Economic Forum – this time I entered as one of the oldest and boldest students in my class.
"I was mesmerised by the luxury of having brilliant professors whose sole task was to help us learn."
Returning to the classroom was so exciting: gone was the timidity of youth. I was mesmerised by the luxury of having brilliant professors whose sole task was to help us learn. On the other hand, going back to school at that point in my life had its complications. It meant juggling responsibilities, which on top of my studies also included a job and a growing family. Looking back, I’m not sure where I got the idea to do my PhD oral exam during my first maternity leave. I naively figured I’d have all this free time off from work to prepare. Right. It’s a miracle I survived, undoubtedly in large part through the intellectual support I received, especially from my terrific advisor Richard Baldwin.
My degree proved pivotal in my professional life. I had always “danced around” economics in my previous studies and work, focusing on the associated topics of management, politics and political economy, avoiding the hard-core mathematical and statistical aspects. But at the Institute I attacked this head on and went from being an avid consumer of economic analysis (mainly through The Economist and the Financial Times) to a producer of analysis.
"Our work serves as a platform for dialogue."
After finishing my coursework in 2002, I transferred within the World Economic Forum from the Davos programme team to the global competitiveness team, and became head of the team five years later. This has allowed me to pursue my passion for development economics. Over the years, together with a wonderful and committed team, we have developed a number of studies looking at various drivers of economic competitiveness and productivity. Most importantly, our work serves as a platform for dialogue, where we bring together business, government and civil society leaders around the results to discuss the economic challenges facing their countries, and how they can best be overcome to provide high and rising living standards for their citizens.
I would not have been able to do such challenging and meaningful work without the critical skills and knowledge that I acquired during my years at the Graduate Institute.
In 2016, the African Development Bank announced the appointment of Dr. Jennifer Blanke as Vice-President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development, with effect from 1st December 2016. She has joined the Senior Management Team of the Bank.